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The 9 best new features in iOS 14: Beautiful widgets, cycling directions, more

During the keynote presentation at its WWDC 2020 developer event, Apple revealed the first official details about iOS 14, the new version of the iPhone operating system coming later this year. Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, introduced the software, saying the company rethought many of the most iconic elements of iOS’s design, carefully adding new features into version 14 while maintaining the same overall look.

There are major changes to iOS with this new release. Several are Apple’s takes on some familiar Android features. What should you expect? Let’s take a look at the most exciting new features and changes.

Home Screen

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The familiar multi-icon home screen in iOS is changing with the introduction of App Library, all in the name of making it easier than ever to get to the apps you want as quickly as possible.

App Library lets you hide the Home screens of apps you use least often and present them in one large overview, with apps in individual folder-like views, found with a swipe up on the main Home screen.

These folders include a Suggestions section, which uses machine learning to show apps you may like, in addition to a Recently Added pane, where your newly downloaded apps appear. iOS 14 even prioritizes your most-used apps by putting them at the top of each list, so you don’t have to go looking for them.

Widgets

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Widgets present information at a glance, and in iOS 14, they will have improved visuals and include more data. They’ll also appear in different sizes. Widgets can now be added to Home screens, and when you drag them into place, your other app icons will move around to integrate them. To make multiple widgets more manageable, Smart Stack puts many widgets all in one space, ready to be swiped through.

Picture in Picture

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Watching video in iOS 14 won’t restrict you to one app, enabling better multitasking across the system. Video will play in a smaller window over whatever screen or app you’re using, even staying over the top as you move through apps. Picture-in-Picture windows can be enlarged, or swiped away to give you a better view of the main screen, at which time it will continue playing the audio. Apple did not say which apps outside of its own will support Picture-in-Picture, or how developers will add the feature in.

Siri

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Siri’s visual interface is getting a big overhaul. Instead of a large, single screen, Siri appears as a small icon at the bottom of the screen, overlaying the app you’re using and accessible on all screens. Siri’s information will appear as a pop-up card notification in some cases, and the virtual assistant can now be asked to record and send audio messages, too.

Translate

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Siri has been integrated into a new Translate app. This works on or offline, where it uses Apple’s Neural Engine to provide real-time language translations. Turn your phone in landscape orientation, and it shows a side-by-side translation view, with a microphone button in the center to make recording new messages quick and easy.

The Translate app will support English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese, and Russian.

Messages

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The Messages app will get a new feature called Conversations. It pins important conversations to the top of the screen, and adds incoming messages from them automatically. This will make it easier to keep track of the messages that are most important to you.

New Memoji options include face coverings, wider age options, and new emotions including a blush. Group chats have a newly designed icon system, where all group members are shown in the single icon at the top of the chat, with individual photos getting steadily larger if the person has contributed to the chat recently. Group chats also get a Mention feature, where typing someone’s name will direct the message to them.

Apple Maps

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Apple’s updated Maps service is already available in the U.S., and will launch in the U.K., Ireland, and Canada this year, providing easier ways to find great places, and new environmentally friendly travel options. Guides makes suggestions on where to go, and these sections automatically update when new places you may like are added.

Cycling routes will be added on iOS 14, showing elevations along your route, quiet or busy road information, and even if you’re going to need to carry your bike up a flight of stairs.

For drivers, EV Routing adds charging stops along the route, and as it knows the type of charger you need, it will make sure you’re going to the right stops. It will support Ford and BMW cars at launch, with more brands coming in the future.

CarPlay

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Apple’s in-car multimedia system has new wallpaper, and new categories for apps dedicated to parking and ordering food, but that’s not the biggest change. Apple is rethinking the car key and making it digital, so you can leave the physical key at home and just use your iPhone.

Coming first to the  BMW 5-Series at launch, iOS 14 uses NFC and the secure element on your iPhone so you can unlock and start your car, and even share your virtual key with others. When you do, you can add special restrictions depending on the driver. This will come to additional vehicles in the future.

Apple also talked about its Carconnectivity Consortium, an industry initiative to help bring the virtual key to more vehicles in the future. It expects new cars with the digital key to come next year.

App Store

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Apps no longer need to be downloaded in iOS 14 (in some cases, at least). Apple has introduced App Clips, its own take on Google’s Instant Apps, or web apps generally. App Clips are a small part of larger apps, which are easy to discover and use through a card that pops up on the screen. All it takes is a tap.

What’s clever here is Apple’s discovery and usability enhancements. App Clips use Apple Pay, so you don’t need an account to pay, as payment is enabled through the Sign In With Apple feature. When you’ve used an App Clip, it can be found and relaunched from a special pane in the new App Library.

Where will you find App Clips? They will be present on the web, shared in Messages, and integrated into Maps and into place cards. In the real world, App Clips can be taken from special NFC cards or QR codes. These tiny apps will be developed from the existing app code, and be less than 10MB.

Look for more information this fall

That’s it for the new features announced by Apple for iOS 14 so far, but more will be revealed as people begin to use the beta versions. Apple will make the developer version of the iOS 14 beta available from June 22, with a public version of iOS 14 beta available in July. The final release will come in the fall, and will be installed on the new range of iPhone models expected around the same time.

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Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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